*Tobi’s Cross* (A Bankole Banjo Short Story)


“So you married her for the sex?!”

Tobi nodded, slowly, thinking again about that decision he made a little over a year ago. “How I for do na? Kezo, the babe can ride mehn…”

Popularly called Kezo by close friends, Kazeem could not believe his friend of 22 years would take such a lifelong decision based on special skills between the sheets. He thought Tobi was smarter. He thought he knew better.

“This life ehn, is just a pot of beans,” Tobi muttered slowly as he poured his favourite Tiger nut drink into the half cup of Alomo bitters. “The things that have happened to me ehn… “, he paused to take a swig from his cup, slowly enjoying the milky substance. “ Oh, I love Joke too much.”

Kazeem knew Tobi loved Joke, his wife of 14 months. It was clear: Tobi was not the lovey-dovey type, but with Joke, he was a clingy baby.

“So what now happened? How did it all go wrong?” Kazeem asked.

“Kezo, you are family, maybe not by blood but by choice. I will tell you everything. Some of it you already know, most you don’t.” Tobi answered wistfully. He ordered another bottle of Tiger nut, rubbed his bowl-like belly and waited. When the attendant brought his drink, he quickly opened it, poured a little more into the cup.

His mind went back to the past hour. The bar was slowly coming alive with guys returning from work. Earlier that evening, Tobi had called Kazeem, after weeks of avoiding him, to talk about happenings in his marriage. They had agreed to meet at their favourite bar. Kazeem could sense Tobi carried a hurt within him immediately he walked to their favourite table tucked at a corner of the bar.

“Ol’ boy, na wa o, ki lon sele now?” Kazeem had berated him.

“No vex,” was all the answer he got. Then he followed promptly by ordering his recently favoured Tiger nut milk and some Alomo bitters while telling him his reason for marrying Joke. For sex. He had married Joke for sex.

He started from the beginning.
“Joke was the woman of my dreams. Baba, I don see women, none be like Joke. Ehn, she was just like something out of my life plan. I don date plenty women o,” he paused and started naming while counting his fingers, “Sade, Labake, Chioma, Seun, Bukola, Josephine, Amina, Amaka, name them… But the day Joke said yes, I knew I was home.”

“While Labake was a spirit in bed, Amina pales her by 100 percent. Baba, I love me some great sex. I don’t care if you can cook or slay like Genevieve. Just have ample boobs and interesting hips, I’m fine. Joke ticked all the boxes. But there was always a challenge from the outset: Joke was a Christian. Church girl. Spirikoko.”

Tobi paused again. Another swig. Another sigh. A belly rub. Then he continued.

“The church bit threw me off but every time I saw her, my brain reset.”

Kazeem knew what he was talking about. Joke had a look that could make the Pope look for Vaseline. And she carried that body with a mien that was as unremarkable as it was unexciting. He knew what Tobi liked. Joke fit that body type. He understood. Every man would.

“So, I kept my cool and chased her,” Tobi continued. “Oh, the babe stressed me ehn. She would ignore my calls, reject my gifts, and refuse to have a word with me. For months! The more she pushed me away, the more I wanted her. And I ensured I eventually got her.”

“You know what I did? I started attending her church. The plan was to get her to like me. But I got engrossed with the Church. I cannot remember when going to church excited me that much. I forgot my initial reason for attending. And that was when Joke noticed me.” A smile strolled across Tobi’s face as he recalled the days.

Kazeem felt his joy. His friend truly got arrested.

“So she reached out and we started going out. Baba mi, Joke was heaven.” The smile came back stronger now.

“She made me forget all others. My life actually got better. And I was totally at peace with my life. Kazeem,” he paused, “Joke too make sense. Baba, Joke na very straight forward girl. Church. Work. Home; e be like triangle. I kuku like am like that. Na me just dey find wetin no loss. Joke na correct babe. But the one problem I had was sex. We were not having sex”

Kazeem smiled. He was already wondering how Tobi coped without sex. The Tobi he knew was never going to abstain like that.

“I no fit ask nor touch her. Na like maize inside bottle for fowl. No matter the agro, I just let her be. But I had my ways – Amaka. Baba, when I wan do, na Amaka I go call. God bless that babe, she know say Joke don carry my life but she still dey service me wella. She kept me going.”

Kazeem shook his head.

“Baba, but na still that Amaka situation change everything. One Saturday evening, Joke just come my house unannounced and met Amaka. If na say she meet am on a normal level, e for good. She walked in on Amaka on all fours and me ramming her from behind. Kezo, I nearly died.”

Kazeem tried picturing a naked Tobi humping the Amaka babe. It was not a sight a Joke should see, he admitted.

“Kezo, Joke didn’t leave o. She simply walked past us into the room. I never see that kain thing before.”

“Wetin you come do?” Kazeem asked incredulously.

“Baba, I sharperly discharge Amaka o. Na the last time I do her be that. She vex. But a man’s gotta do what he gotta do.”

“Wetin Joke come do?” Kazeem asked.

Tobi smiled as the memories washed over him.

“She just asked a simple question: you know you were into sex and you never ever asked nor even made a move with me.”

Kazeem was shocked. “Joke?”

Tobi nodded in agreement.

“Baba, I just went on my knees o and begged her plenty. Then she asked if I wore condoms. I said yes, I did. Then she gave me this head-to-toe look and walked out of the apartment. For two weeks, I didn’t see her. She won’t pick my calls again neither would she even as much as say hi in church. I thought I had lost her.”

Tobi refilled his glass and took a long sip.

“Baba, you no go drink ni?” Tobi asked, noticing for the first time that his friend had been sitting without a drink.

“You know say I no dey drink now. Let them just give me Fayrouz or Cranberry,” Kazeem responded. Tobi placed the order for him and continued his tale.

“I wanted to give up on Joke. I thought I had bottled it. But Baba, na so I see Joke one Sunday evening o as I dey dress to go chill with boys. At least if woman leave person, beer no dey leave.”

Kazeem laughed at his friend’s attempt at sarcasm.

“So she came o. Come ask what exactly I want from am. I tell am straight: I wan marry am ni. She said, ok. So you think by sleeping with other women is how you convince another woman to marry you? I just keep quiet dey look. Make we no long gist, she gave me two rules: no other women; always ask what you want.”

Kazeem nodded. Straight forward girl.

“So as a sharp boy, I say make I test the rules. Na him I ask for sex.”

“That was when I discovered gold in the dust bro. It was almost mechanical. She just looked me in the eyes, rolled her eyes and stripped off. You know how it is when you are in charge of the remote control? She literally just gave herself to me. It looked like it was going to be a boring adventure. But nah, omo yen da. We were on this matter for over two hours. I no believe am. Church girl. Great body. Amazing in bed. Wetin I dey find again? Baba, na that day I propose o.”

Kazeem laughed out loud, almost choking on his Fayrouz in the process.

“Abi now. I forget Amaka straight from that day. Joke was a steady and assured lover in and out of bed. We were married within the year. And brother mi, it was the best moment of my life.”

Kazeem nodded. He was aware of the bliss and the excitement of the marriage.

“We had sex every day. It was like a dam of want had been demolished in her life. We had it everywhere. Once on our way from evening service, she gave me a BJ right there in the car park. Baba, I enjoyed everything. I no know say na wetin I like go kill me.” He sighed and shook his head.

“The accident changed everything. Of course you know about the accident. What you don’t know is that I was rushing home that night to my wife. She had sent me a video of her playing with herself. The message was clear. But I was held up at work till almost 11pm. I literally flew out of the car park that night. On my way home, some family was crossing the expressway enroute vigil. I saw them late. But I avoided running into them instead crashing the car into the concrete median. I woke up two days later in the hospital. You remember that day shey? Na you and Joke dey my bedside.”

Kazeem nodded in affirmation. He had gotten a call that night of the accident that Tobi was involved in a lone accident. For two days, he had stayed by his bedside hoping he came out of coma. Joke was there too; her office had given her some days off work to look after her husband.

“Remember I spent 6 weeks in hospital. Plenty issues. But I lived. Right in my presence, I saw my wife wither away in pain and anguish. Her husband was no longer exciting. We tried to keep the sex life alive but I was always in pains. She had to ride me slowly; too slowly for her to orgasm.”

Tobi’s voice trailed off in anguish. He was fighting back the tears.

“I tried all I could.” The sobs were coming now. “But I was never up to it. Soon, she stopped enduring my boring ass. She became withdrawn. Baba, babe wey fit fuck for Africa come dey withdrawn? I fear. But wetin I fit do? I was just recovering from an accident; I never even go back to work.”

“Hmmmnnn”

“Kezo, it was the saddest period of my life. Apart from say the accident worry me, I no too ginger for the thing again. I just wanted to live.”

“I try everything to get back my old self. My friends say Tigernut works as an aphrodisiac. Baba, na three months be this way I don dey drink the thing, nothing happen,” he sighed again. “At least with Joke.”

Kazeem spied the drink. One off-white mixture with black particles.

“As I dey try hustle my way to a better life, Joke kept growing apart. Sex had become a once-a-month thingy. Even that once a month be like favour. I kukuma stop every jare. But my dear Joke suddenly seemed to enjoy her life more. She was always glowing, eager to go out more and more. I was shocked. She no longer served me food naked nor barged into the bathroom while I had my bath. No more cinema dates or surprise hangout. The spontaneous sex had become a mirage. Kazeem, it killed me.”

This time, Tobi shed a tear but quickly cleaned it off.

“Then the worst happened. Friends started telling me that my Joke was sleeping around. I no believe am. But the gist continue. I still no believe. But the day I see am myself ehn, I still no believe my eyes.”

“Wow. Joke?!” Kazeem asked in shock.

“Dey there. Na my neighbour o. Yomi. See ehn, this Yomi, na my boy o. I took him like a brother. But the day I opened my flat and saw my wife riding Yomi on the floor of the living room, I nearly passed out. Kezo, na like the way she dey ride me: eyes closed, back arched, hand pressing the guy down, moans so loud like crashing waves.”

Tobi wept.

Kazeem was dumbfounded. He just sat there, allowing Tobi weep.

“Just because of an accident, I lost my drive; I lost my wife. To a boy I literally made.” The sobs were heavier now. But he controlled himself and reined in his emotion.

“You saw her, in your apartment, sleeping with another man?” Kazeem asked, total disbelief crowding every phrase.

“Baba, Joke o. You see why I no gree pick your call. She don come report me to you but she tell you wetin she do? How she refused sleeping with me for weeks? How I walked in on her sleeping with another man? How she had been telling everyone I am impotent and cannot get it up without Tigernut?”

Kazeem kept quiet. All these were new to him. Joke had just told him Tobi was no longer giving her attention just 14 months into their marriage. She never said anything about the sex nor the infidelity.

“My brother, the only reason I let that boy live that day was because she once walked in on me too. It just feels right to not blow my fuse.”

Kazeem searched for words but could not find any. Joke had been introduced by Tobi soon after they started the relationship. He had been delighted his friend was finally getting a sane girl. And the joys of the early years were palpable. He also noticed everything entered a lull after the accident.

“Tobi, I really don’t know what to say. I am sorry I never gave you a chance to tell your side of the story….”

“Baba, no need to be sorry,” Tobi cut him short. “See, I be street boy. I know as e dey go. Joke na sex freak. She cannot stay 2 days without the dick. Na my wife. I like her that way. Na as the accident take happen scatter everything. But I cannot kill myself. I gave my best when I could.”

“Yeah, Tobi. But what is the way forward?” Kazeem asked.

“I no know. I sha no send am packing. No, I no go do that. I have hope. I am willing to forgive her. She is the best thing that has happened to me. I won’t let her go. No, man.”

“How e go come be now?”

“Kezo, shebi na lifetime contract we sign? I am here. I cannot just end it like that.”

Kazeem sighed. He really was confused.

“Oh oh! So you see?” Tobi muttered. “I will give this one more try. I blame myself for driving too fast that night. All these would never have happened. It was all my fault.”

“No, no Tobi. Not your fault. You were going home to her, remember?”

“Baba, this is my cross. I will bear it alone. If it kills me, fine. But I will try. I will fight for my wife. I cannot fail at this.”

Kazeem sensed the finality in his voice.

“I am loading myself on Tigernut, hoping someday I will get my drive back.”

The conversation went into an uncomfortable quiet. The brothers knew there was little else to say. To each man, his cross.

***

The End.

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See What’s Coming


It was raining cats and dogs as Seyi made for the small Baba Ijebu shop at Alayabiagba close to the popular Boundary market in Ajegunle. He needed to win some money before he lost his crush Sikira to Odior. “Ungrateful bastard”, he thought to himself as he ran towards his favourite Baba Ijebu joint. Odior had been his best friend for 10years and his partner in trouble making. Together they shared a room at number 49 Uzor street. It was a face-me-and-face-you apartment with trouble just across the hall. Everyone in Boundary market knew Seyi and Odior and they had stories to prove it too. However Odior had never been too keen on work. He worked on days when it was inevitable and when Seyi didn’t make much “tax” from the commercial bus drivers and motorcycle riders popularly called Danfo drivers and okada riders respectively. As a popular Agbero, Seyi had the task of forcefully collecting money from Danfo and okada drivers and remitting to the park chairman. He had daily targets and only after those targets had been met can he keep some money from himself. There were days he had nothing left. Those days were rare and far between.

Seyi had been to the Baba Ijebu joint early that morning to play the numbers, hoping that day his tide would turn. Just the week before, Odior had won N50,000 and since then, Odior hadn’t been to the house. However Seyi had seen him a few times with Sikira going into Easy Bar and he knew that Odior had finally crossed the line he had been waiting years to cross. “Ungrateful bastard”, he said again. This time loudly to himself. He will show both of them on these streets, he promised himself.

***

You had left home this morning for the Apapa ports to clear some of your containers already there waiting for a pass from immigration. You needed to get your goods out and into the waiting hands of your eager customers. Obinna your clearing and forwarding agent despite his years in Lagos and deep understanding of Yoruba hadn’t been able to get it done. The immigration officers were proving difficult and nothing he said would make them budge. You needed to fix it yourself. An inconvenience of course, but the thought of losing substantial money like that was not something you would consider. Of course you knew the officers only wanted more money and you went with a few extra bundles. As your driver descended Eko bridge and headed towards Ijora, you noticed the slight shower of that morning had graduated into huge sleets of rain. “Not today”, you thought. Apapa was difficult enough without rain. Slowly your car descended Ijora bridge which became Marine bridge as you drew even closer to Apapa. You noticed the queue of parked trucks and tankers on one side of the road, the bridges included. The queue had started from Ojuelegba, you recalled. Your driver made a right towards Ajegunle to avoid the traffic of trucks and tankers on Marine bridge. He would make a turn just before Mobil depot and then a beeline for the ports. Just the thought of the turns and diversions was stressing you already. You just wanted to be out of there as fast as possible.

***

The rain had slowly ebbed. It had been two hours and you were just still approaching Mobil. A truck had tried to make a turn and had overturned right in the middle of the road; blocking your side of the road. Typical of Lagos, the Danfos had quickly found a way to cut into the other side of the road; openly flouting traffic laws. Ajegunle equalled den on unlawfulness so you weren’t all that surprised. Law enforcement officers looked on, clueless. What quickly became a solution suddenly became hell as traffic on the other side of the road soon became locked too. From the look of it, no one would be going anywhere soon. Passengers were already alighting from the commercial buses and trekking down the road towards Boundary bus stop. The crowd was overwhelming, unending. Who would have thought the slums housed such number of people? You told your driver it was time to leave, he needed to find a way out and back home. You would call Obinna and ask him to pay whatever was needed. You rolled down your windows slightly to assess the situation and just then you saw him. He didn’t see you yet but you saw him.

***

Seyi held on to his Baba Ijebu tickets as he downed a shot of paraga at Iya Rasaki’s. He stepped it down with the peppered Ponmo which made Iya Rasaki’s paraga popular with the boys at Boundary park. It didn’t matter that it was a N50 distance from the park itself. There was something about Iya Rasaki’s paraga and peppered Ponmo on a cold rainy day. The combination sent a spiral of warmth down your spine and left your brain at maximum capacity. And Iya Rasaki’s ponmo gave life on all kinds of levels. Seyi thought about Rashida, Iya Rasaki’s second child. The girl was not bad and he had seen how some of the boys described her with lustful looks in their eyes. He had even seen a few attempt to corner the girl but Iya Rasaki was always there to shield the girl. She just knew where to be and when. But Sikira was his real prize and he had let Odior beat him to it. He couldn’t believe it himself. Seyi had looked up just then to see you sitting in that car. He sat frozen in time. You hadn’t changed much, he thought as all the emotions he had kept at bay slowly began to hit him.

***

You saw the emotions run through his face. Recognition. Shock. Sadness. Pain. Anger. You saw his face as he fought the emotions for control. Just like his father, you thought.

***

Seyi remembered in detail. How years before you had told him to learn to take care of himself. How you wouldn’t be around much. How you needed to find his father’s people. And one day, he got home from school and found you gone. No note. No contact detail. The next day your sister had come for him. She had passed two years later and with no way to reach you, he had gathered what he could and left the house.

***

You looked at the man sitting across the road from your car. He reminded you of the man you loved. You had thought you’d be back in weeks with enough to take care of you and your son. Instead a few weeks had become months. You had begged your sister to keep taking care of your son till you could. Months had become years. Your sister had died and the boy had left home. You searched and searched but no one knew where he was. Now, there he sat across the road from you.

***

Seyi slowly rose to his feet. He looked across the road at you and you saw that big smile you remembered so well. You smiled back at him. Just then, he flagged down a bike and just as quickly, he was gone. There were no goodbyes.

***

End.

 

Reunited (A Bankole Banjo short story)


“Don’t ever tell me goodbye again,” she said, tears clouding her unusually bright eyes.

 

“I won’t. I promise. I just really couldn’t take your indecision any more.” He responded with a smooth smile, his hands smoothening her wig. They were locked in the office meeting room, making up for lost time.

 

They had been hired by the bank on the same day, same grade level. While he worked in Risk Management, she was in the Legal department. They had met at the canteen one afternoon and her bright smile had arrested him. There was something about a lady with a toothy smile that melted his heart. He watched her every move as she queued to be served while he, already served, pretended to be busy with his bowl of amala and gbegiri. He wished he had ordered something appropriate. How would she feel seeing him battle a mountain of amala and gbegiri wearing a suit and a tie. “This life ehn,” he sighed.

 

“Can I sit?” He heard someone say just as he balanced a morsel of amala plastered with gbegiri. He looked up, morsel suspended, mouth open, to see the babe with the toothy smile. Embarrassment washed over him as he slowly dropped the morsel. He cleared his throat and responded: “Yes, you can.”

 

She sat with an effusive ‘thank you’. He took a side glance at her plate knowing what to expect. But he was wrong. Sitting like Olumo was amala dudu and surrounding it like Ogun river was gbegiri with a team on ponmo for company. Their eyes met. And she smiled again.

 

That was when he knew he was going to be close to her.

 

“My name is Gbenga,” he whispered.

“I am Uzo,” she responded.

“Ibo?”

“No. Delta.”

“Huh? Why…” he wanted to refer to the amala but she cut him short.

“My mum is from Ibadan. She thinks amala is the food of the gods.”

“Hmmmnnn. I believe her you know.”

“You do?”

He nodded and answered: “I am witnessing a goddess eat a bowl of amala right now…”

She smiled again. And Gbenga felt something kick in his tummy. He knew that sign too well…

 

***

 

They started dating three days later. Gbenga couldn’t get over her sense of humour and open-mindedness. She was everything he wanted in a woman. He thanked his stars he took the job when the offer came. Having tried unsuccessfully to get into AxaMansard where he knew he would get a higher position as a Risk Manager, the bank was his last resort.

 

Now the bank has brought him joy from the South. He was going to keep her. Forever.

 

Until Femi happened.

 

***

 

Femi was the debonair new Head of Legal. He was appointed two weeks after the erstwhile Unit Head left for the Nigerian Stock Exchange.

 

All the ladies adored Femi. He was dark like a bottle Of Guinness and tall like Idris Elba. And his command of the English language impressed every one. Someone said he spoke like he was born speaking. No one knew much about him beyond his professional interests. But everyone agreed he was a looker.

 

Uzo liked him the very first time. It was a harmless adoration that quickly developed into more. Soon, working late became the order of the day. If it was not Board papers, it would be some Relationship Manager’s pending case. While the late night work seemed official, many observed that it soon became a Femi and Uzo affair. Only the two of them of the 8 lawyers and legal assistants worked late.

 

The rumour mill started gradually. And by the time it got into overdrive, Gbenga knew a risk was brewing. The duo no longer met at lunch nor saw movies together Friday nights.

 

“Ol’ boy, Uzo don dey give that Femi boy toto,” Tobi, the bulky Relationship Manager who knew about them told Gbenga one night out. “If you think say na work dem dey do, you be number one fool. I even hear say dem go watch Black Panther together for Circle Mall.”

 

“Black Panther?” Gbenga repeated. Was it not the movie they’d been meaning to see for some three weeks only for her to say she was no longer interested?

 

“Baba, ja’ra e! You have to do something,” Tobi concluded.

 

“But guy, are you sure of this?” Gbenga asked, hoping it wasn’t all true.

 

“Ok o. Dey ask me foolish question. Dey there s’ogbo?” Tobi countered as he reached for his bottle of Trophy.

 

Gbenga would confront Uzo with the accusations. She would flare up like a fire disaster. He would beg her to forgive his indiscretion. She would walk out on him.

 

That was when he knew he had to do something.

 

***

 

“Baba o! Irunmole to n sise ni Bank. Iwin ti o need make-up. Okunrin ti o we to n dan. Eyan Anthony Joshua. Imule Tobesco, alaanu awon boys!”

 

The street boys hailed Gbenga as he galloped into the street, 8 bottles of Trophy coursing through his system.

 

Gbenga chuckled despite his grief. He had stayed out late with Tobi again with Uzo dominating discourse. He knew he needed to do something. But what exactly, he doesn’t know.

 

“Baba e da wa loun, e ki n se bayi,” Rasaki, the one with the bit-off ear hustled him.

 

“Rasky, eni o da. Maa ri eyin boys later,” Gbenga responded. Rasaki would hear none of it. Gbenga was their sure guy. Every other evening, he would drop money with Iya Codeine, the woman who sells all manner of drinks in a big brown earthen bowl, to sell stuff for the boys. He was loved and respected by the street. He was street-credible.

 

“Baba, e ma wo pe awa o kawe o. Ki lon bother yin? E je ka gbo.”

 

Lacking the will to shrug Rasaki off, he told him everything.

 

Shockingly, Rasaki had a plan; one so fitting Gbenga dipped his hand in his wallet and bought off the remaining skuchies on sale.

 

He went home feeling better. But first, he had to break it all up with Uzo. He opened his WhatsApp and began typing:

 

Sometimes we happen on life

And think, is this it?

 

Life is never fair

Will never be in a thousand years

But we owe it to us

To live. For self. For love. For joy.

Still we forget

Indeed we lose it all

Trying to please

Those who would never matter

 

But life goes on.

In our choices. And options.

In our troubles. And triumphs.

In love found in awkward places

And emotions battled to death

 

I live. For life.

 

I love. For Uzo.

I move on. For Gbenga.

 

 

Goodbye.

 

***

 

Uzo never acknowledged his best effort at poetry. He knew she had read it but to ignore his creativity hurts.

 

He moved on, hoping Rasaki will pull through with his plans. He was tired of the drama and the boys gist. He just wanted his babe back to her senses.

 

It took three days for it to happen.

 

No one saw anything. Not even the car park security. A passer-by heard screams coming from the direction of the car park. But this is Lagos: you must mind your own business.

 

Daybreak brought out the gist.

 

A group of four faceless guys had ambushed Femi as he opened his car. They had redesigned his face with blows and what-nots. Rumour has it his five front teeth up and down were removed and packed into his suit pocket.

 

For one week, Femi was absent at work. Uzo was distraught. The entire office was shocked. Security was beefed up at the car park to avert future occurrence. But there would be no future occurrence.

 

When Femi resumed, he spotted dark shades and his face had uneven ridges like a pawpaw. He spoke little and clenched what looked like unusually whiter teeth when he spoke. Everyone noticed he suddenly avoided Uzo like death.

 

They asked him what happened. It was an accident, he said. He had run into a wall. The lie was whiter than hissop but no one bothered to probe further.

 

***

 

“Promise you won’t say goodbye again?” Uzo asked again.

 

Gbenga smiled this time. He was not going to promise anything. He would take things one day at a time.

 

He drew her closer and kissed her forehead.

 

“I’m glad to have you back,” he whispered.

 

***

 

Iya Codeine’s was bubbling with guys when Gbenga was returning from work. As the boys sighted him, they all stood in unison, raised both hands and saluted.

 

“Baba o! Agbalagba oye, ekun oko Uzo. Your head dey there.” They chanted as if rehearsed.

 

Gbenga smiled and waved. Sometimes, the street fights for its own.

 

***

 

The End.

The Boy Almajiri


Yanju’s day started with his bicycle. He rode it all the way to Ilupeju where his mother owns a small kiosk. He helped her get ready everyday before he goes to school. Today was no different. As he rode in the early morning traffic, he steered expertly away from motorists most of whom were already familiar with the boy as he pedalled, sharing a wave here and another there. His cream-coloured school shirt already taking the colour of the sand gathered on the side of the road.

***

Allahu akbar! Allahu akbar!..

It was the call to prayer from the main mosque loudly breaking the silence of dawn as Ahmed grudgingly roused from sleep. The night before, Alfa had decided the boys weren’t bringing in enough for their keep. He had threatened to hand over a handful of them to Alhaji Sule if they didn’t come back to the school at the end of the day with enough money for 3 days’ upkeep. Ahmed had been scared. It was open secret among the boys that Alhaji Sule used boys as a man would use a female. The boys who had been unlucky enough to experience it had not remained the same ever since. Something was just off about them, something Ahmed couldn’t exactly put into words.

Ahmed was one of the older boys in the Goje Arabic school. With the announcement, he had gathered a few of his friends and some of the more industrious younger boys and one by one, they had disappeared into the famous Suleja market. The Sun had risen with intensity. Sweat was soon streaming down their backs and it wasn’t even 7:30 a.m yet. They had agreed to start there at the market. Begging, harassing, threatening and if it came down to it, stealing. Anything so long as they escaped Alhaji Sule. Alfa had told them it was haram to steal. But didn’t Alfa also say Allah’s curse is on the man who commits adultery? Perhaps it’s not adultery if it’s a man and another man doing it.

“Astaghfur llahi”, Ahmed whispered. He didn’t want to commit sin with his thoughts. Thoughts of going against Allah’s will must be a sin. Allah sees our thoughts. “Astaghfur llahi”, Ahmed said again, this time loudly.

*****
Yanju soon noticed the sky. The Sun which had been fierce earlier that morning was gradually receding behind a film of clouds in the distance. It was going to rain. He pedalled at twice his prior rate. He needed to get to the kiosk and then, school before the rain poured. The wind was gathering.

******

The Goje boys were having the time of their lives in Suleja market. While walking through the throng of shopping crowd, Ahmed had pushed a woman mindlessly . The woman had turned around sharply and confronted him. It was obvious she wasn’t from around. Her uncovered hair and caramel-coloured skin stood her out like a sore thumb. How dare she confront him? Wasn’t she supposed to lower her gaze? If she had would she have known it was he who pushed her?

The ruckus had grown fast. Like wildfire. The boys had gathered round the woman and begun taunting her. A crowd was looking. The woman looked angry and kept speaking in that language Ahmed had heard Alfa speak sparingly with visitors. She kept pointing fingers in his face as the taunting continued. But something happened with her face – a dawning. Soon Ahmed saw her running so fast as if chased by a ghost, out of the market. She had dropped her purse in the hurry. It wasn’t stealing if the owner dropped the purse. Or was it? Ahmed quickly picked it up before any of the other boys found it. He counted 3 One Thousand Naira Notes. That’s the largest amount he had ever held in his hands. Alfa would be really proud.

****

The rain was pouring now in torrents. ‘Yanju had found a shelter to wait the rain out. the shop looked like its owner hadn’t come around that morning. ‘Yanju was late for school. He could tell by the dwindling number of cars on the road. Earlier in the mornings meant more traffic. The later in the day it gets, the fewer the vehicles to be seen, until the early or late afternoons when it’s rush-hour again.

****

“Ahmed”, Danjuma called out as Ahmed ran to cross the road…

****

‘Yanju heard a voice call out. Thunder rumbled as he heard the name “Ahmed”. The voice came from very close to him, like the caller was standing right beside him. Yanju looked around to see if someone else was hiding in the shed. But he was alone. Yet he had heard the voice loud and clear. It was an unfamiliar voice, yet it sounded familiar. And he had heard it loud and clear. He saw the boy Ahmed as he made to cross a road. The road was strangely unfamiliar. Thunder struck this time. He saw so many boys on the road, all dressed in tattered clothes, which they had obviously outgrown. They all held out a bowl, approaching people he did not know. Except the boy called Ahmed. He didn’t look any different from thing e rest. Only he had no bowl in his hand…

****

Ahmed told Danjuma about his early morning find with excitement in his eyes and together they went to find food. The money was enough to buy both of them a week with Alfa. Ahmed could not stop talking about his find. the boys looked in envy at the huge fortune that had smiled on Ahmed.

****

The rain was subsiding. Yanju decided to wait a few more minutes before he continued on his way to school. Thunder struck again.

Some boys gathered round the boy. He saw them make for his pocket. He saw the boy try to fight. Another boy was with him. Fighting. Yanju saw nothing else. The group of boys started walking away. Behind them, two boys stayed unmoving.

He recognized the boy Ahmed. A piece of paper flew through the wind. It was a Thousand Naira note. The two boys held something in their hands. A Thousand Naira each. The rain started again.

****

A Stupid Play


Lights. We see a dilapidated building. Completely run down. We see two men, seemingly brothers, in clothes that have had their fair share of washing. They are outside on a long bench gazing at nothing in particular. A sheet overhanging the roof seems the only cover outside the building providing shade. The older one lies on his back on the bench, leaving his brother just enough space for his butt.

Ilujinmi:  I think it’s going to rain today
Ibidun:   Rain. Have you seen this sun? It’s in its full glory it burns
Ilujinmi: Oh that! It’s just playing. (Slight pause) you know this is the sun for snakes. They can shed their skins and grow bigger.
Ibidun:   I found a snake yesterday. I was hoping it swallowed a house.
Ilujinmi: We sure need a house right now.
Ibidun:    Imagine the furnishing. Maybe every year we’ll get new upholstery like at the big rock
Ilujinmi: You dream too big (heavy silence)
Ibidun:    Kabiyesi crowned a new Iyalode yesterday. Bottles everywhere. Food packs too. Everything a good party should be. (Silence) you should have seen her. There is no doubt she is Iyalode. The Gele spoke its own language. (Slight pause) you know, you sleep too much
Ilujinmi:  (Unbothered) hope you had a good look. It will be a while before the next one.
Ibidun:    (Moves to get up) get up let’s fix this sheet.
Ilujinmi:   What’s the point? It’s just going to go with the next rain
Ibidun:    Come on. (Ilujinmi reluctantly gets up. Thunder rumbles)

Ibidun:    (Sits back down) oh well, looks like it’s going to rain afterall. Perhaps when the rain stops…
Ilujinmi:  It’s going to take the roof
Ibidun:    Well, maybe then we’ll get around to buying that new one we’ve been talking about.

They go inside. Lights fade. Light comes back on. Ilujinmi steps back out to take the bench he’s been sleeping on. He goes inside. Lights fade.

Africans on Sale in Libya: It’s the 15th Century All Over Again


Sometime last week, I saw a video on an Instagram page belonging to Diary of a Naija Girl (DANG). It was pulled off a CNN report about ongoing human auction in Libya. The young man in the video, Victory a 21 year old Nigerian, recounted his ordeal in the 8 months he was traded until he was able to buy his freedom. It was gut-wrenching.

I decided to do a thorough search about the CNN report via Google, and the results from the search Engine had me angry. Then I watched the full report. From the video, humans are sold as “merchandise”. Humans are sold like cattle and forced to work. In Victory’s words, even while they were doing the work, they are beaten. They were abused. Some died.

I remember a story I heard a few months ago during my Annual Leave, that a woman celebrated after she got a call that her daughter had finally crossed into Europe. At the time, all I could think about was that girl who would have had a harrowing experience. Now I think to myself, was she sold too and forced to work until she could buy back her freedom and escape into Europe? Or is she still someone’s slave in Europe? These questions, I’ll never get answers to.

In many online comments, the judgement were, what were people looking for trying to escape into Europe through Libya? Some said these horrifying incidents will teach people to stay home. But it’s easy to condemn people for taking a chance if it will give them a better life than they currently have in Nigeria. Many of us are online to see and read the stories. The people who are right now saving every kobo to make the trip to Libya are largely unaware of these events. No be who chop belleful dey buy data? They just want to make it out of these climes. We keep saying Europe has its problems, but to them Europe without food is better than Nigeria without food.

Let’s go back to Victory and the countless unnamed Africans who have been or are still going through such horrifying experiences in Libya. The world finally heard about Libya’s thriving human auctioning industry. From all indications, it is an open secret. The UN is naturally appalled because it is violation of the basic rights of man. Celebrities, Football icons are adding their voice to it on social media, calling for an immediate stop to it. Some African countries are acting swiftly to get their people out.

I heard this morning that some 239 Nigerians arrived today from Libya. However more are still in shackles. The Nigerian Government has “naturally” remained silent. “If the rights of a resident alien are violated without proper redress in the state of residence, his home state is warranted by international law in coming to his assistance and interposing diplomatically on his behalf.” (pg 507 of The American Journal of International Law). What is the Nigerian government doing to ensure other Nigerians currently still in shackles in Libya is released and returned safely home? What are we doing to ensure when they get back home, there are effective social welfare programmes to set them up with? Are we calling for diplomatic protection of every one still in Libya? Are there stringent diplomatic measures already ongoing against Libya to push them to conduct a full scale territorial search for those who may still be held in Libya? Will perpetrators be tried?

This is the time for the Nigerian House of Assembly to call an emergency session. The Nigerian government should fix the country so that our people can stop escaping the country. If country good, who go wan run comot? Nigeria is in disarray economically. Social welfare is non-existent. The Nigerian life is not worth a Naira to the government. Make we first comot the dust wey dey our eye before we comot another person own. We need to fix our home. We need to intensify efforts to stop illegal migration of our people. We need to educate the populace in urban and especially rural communities on the dangers of sneaking into Europe through Libya. The government should make it easy for us to be Nigerians. We need to bring back our people while also fixing our home.

Stop It! Writing Is Not “Ordinary”


Today, I’m addressing this issue of Nigerians who disregard writers or writing generally because they see it as something anybody can do. Nigerians need to start respecting creative people especially writers. I know many don’t see writing as a prestigious career but if you love television, movies, music and gaming, then you need to shift your thinking about writing. Programmes are created by writers. The movies you love so much were first, stories on paper. That show you can’t get enough of on TV, were written by guess who – writers. Jenifa’s Diary has a script. The Wedding Party which everyone loved in Nigerian cinemas has a script. Big Bang Theory was scripted. Titanic was scripted too – all by writers. Also, each of these movies and TV material have made and are still making millions of Naira and/or Dollars from sales and rights.

Now let me give you a typical example of my day as a writer in Nigeria.

Client: I need a blogpost on so so so.
Me: It’s 30k o. When do you need it?
Client: 30k ke? For ordinary blogpost?

Shebi it’s “just” a blog-post

Or another example. Let’s call this person Mr. T.

Mr. T: Taiwo I need your help. I’m doing a documentary on markets in Nigeria. I want to submit the documentary video for an International prize. So I need like a script, well-researched o.
Me: Eh ehn! Your fee is so-so amount!
Mr. T: Ah ahn! Taiwo, can’t you do it for free? You’re my person o.
Me: Sir, will I get credit as the writer if you win?
Mr. T: Taiwo, why are you talking like this?

Bottom line, no one wants to pay a writer because “what’s there? Ordinary writing? Everybody can write na”.

Everybody can write. Anybody can copy. Anybody can take somebody else’s note, and write it down in theirs. But not everybody can create a story or write content from scratch on a blank paper. Not everybody can create something from nothing. Not everybody can write out the stories in their heads and make you look forward to more. Not everybody can write a blogpost that is so good, people who read it, and go out to buy the product or service. That is what makes a writer different.

Whatever is written is original content from the writer, it is a product. The writing process is service. So when you contract a writer for content, what you get is product and service. Why then will you say “ordinary writing” or cheapen a writer’s efforts by offering insulting fee for content that will be of economic value to you? How would you feel if as an accountant someone tells you what you do is “ordinary” audit? Would you go to MTN or Airtel asking them to give you free data? Shebi, “what’s there? Is it not to just go on Instagram and like pictures? And maybe Google stuff?” So why can’t Nigerians respect writing and the creative industry? I’ve seen writing job adverts in the Obodo Oyibo offering $2000 a month meanwhile over here to pay a token to a writer “dey hard us” because it’s “ordinary” writing.

This “ordinary” writing has taken a lot of sacrifices, a lot of schooling, years of training, and lots of practise, money and time investment as well as constant development to be this good and for me to remain passionate about it. It is a tad insulting to generalize it as “ordinary”. I may not have a sealed package to show for it but every story or content I put out or work on is a product. Respect the work. Respect writers. Pay our due without cheapening our effort or our work. If you want free ideas or content, do it yourself.

A Happy Ending?


On a street not far from yours, lived an everyday girl, who also doubled as a slay queen and head turner. Under the fading light of the evening sun, with gentle breeze and childish giggles in the air, is a party happening. It is the celebration of a marriage, and there she was basking in the melodious tunes of the party band as it ascends to a climax.

At that same party was a young man who couldn’t take his eyes off the dancing Damsel. He was no prince but was fine enough to be a Demon. “Demon”, her brain screamed in acknowledgement of what she already knew. But her heart was doing the somersault. It was turmoil inside of her. Her feet kept up with the music, unbothered with the war inside. Her face remained lit. LIT!

He walked towards her, letting his feet speak the same language as hers. And together they danced the evening into the night. She kicked her shoes off in total abandon. They weren’t glassy like Cinderella’s; they were just rubber slippers – the kind that women are quick to substitute their heels for after wearing one for hours.
Party bystanders looked on, in enjoyment of the dance romance unfolding before their eyes. “Lovely couple”, they complimented in a wishy tone. A few women were seen throwing evil glances at them. She just stole another brother they could have hitched. She couldn’t be bothered.

As the music took a mellower tune, he looked at her in awe. He was marvelled by her open disposition and the make-up streaked happiness that brightened her face. “I’m Dotun”, he finally said, introducing himself. “Veronica”, she said in a whispery tone. Taking in the sound of her voice, its feathery sound, like gentle breeze on a Harmattan evening, he popped the question. “Do you have a boyfriend?”

The question throws her off-balance. Her heart skips as she gulps in air, stalling for time so she can find her voice.

“No”, she said.

He smiled as an echo of silence passed between them.

Her thoughts: He looks like he is scouting for a girlfriend

His thoughts: She is really beautiful.

Skeptical, almost unsure, like he needed to gauge her next reaction, he said “You’re really beautiful. Are you sure you don’t have a boyfriend? I’m asking for a friend; come, let me introduce you to him. He is a gentleman.”

You Will Remember Me


I remember the first day I saw you. It was that day I had a big row with Anu. The argument had been over C. Ronaldo – Did Sir Fergie make him the success he is today or was he just a natural? Anu had insisted it was all natural talent. I stated it was nurture and nature else Ronaldo would have been ordinary. That Sir Fergie trained Ronaldo to demand a high expectation from  himself, to  live up to the heavy expectations from Beckham’s No. 7 shirt he got at United. initially the other guys took sides. But after heated minutes, they left us to it. By the time the episode ended, I was left very angry.

You had walked in just then. The proverbial cold water to calm me. Oh Jennifer, how pretty you looked. I wiped my face twice when you walked in. The guys thought it was from the sweat I had worked up form the earlier argument. But it was you.

Even then I knew you were off-limit.

I remember our first date. I had buzzed to check up on you. You said you were fine and mentioned you were seeing a movie that evening after work. I joked that hope it wasn’t The Wedding Party because that makes you a copy-cat. You laughed and said, nah, seeing as you mentioned the movies first, I was the copier. We agreed to meet at the mall at 6:10pm and watch together. It wasn’t a first day per se. It was just coincidence.

You were not so off-limit then.

We had so much fun at the movies, we decided to do it again. And again. And again. It’s been 4 months.

Limits? is that even a word?

I can’t take back those months. Oh! I wish I could. You’re still the prettiest girl I know. And the things your laughter do to me, if only you knew. Love found me in the wrongest of places.

OFF-LIMIT

Bode is on his way home now and you must be his wife again – the wife he left at home when he went off-shore. And I must be the best friend I was before that movie date – the best friend I’ve been since age 5. This time from a bigger distance – Sydney, Australia. Once again, I choose friendship over this pain in my heart.

The Smell of Sunday Morning


I had forgotten the smell of Sunday morning. It was the smell of dew and sounds of cooking pots in neighbouring houses as worshippers prepare for Church. It was also the not-too-distant sputtering of cars, an awakening sound from a week of un-use. There was the smell of freshly washed bodies as people made their way to bus stops in groups of threes and fours and fives where everyone eventually made their way to church in whichever part of the city that may be. There was the smell of perfumes preserved for special days and occasions pervading buses. It was passengers putting on their Sunday best to stand in the presence of a supreme being. It was the smell that enveloped the city just before it rouses from the sleep that marked the last day of the weekend. It’s been months since I perceived that smell of Sunday.

Usually for me Sunday mornings doubled as sleepy mornings and laundry days. It was the only day of the week I let myself sleep longer, stretch better, lazy around. But this Sunday morning was different. This Sunday morning I was out of the house not to make my way to Assalatu. Assalatus as with many worship centres lately have become places of show-off, no longer places to reminisce about the greatness of the Supreme Being. So lately, I’ve picked my Assalatu spot in a corner of my sitting room, saying prayers with the quietness of dawn. What got me out of the house this Sunday was quite different – even as I stepped out of the house in what a few might regard my Sunday best. This Sunday, I headed towards clarity, away from the noise that’s been screeching up and down my being lately. This Sunday as I joined tens of Sunday worshippers and a few Saturday left-behinds on a bus, I was reminded of what it was to be out on Sunday morning. Even as whispers from nearby loudspeakers from street preachers began to creep along, and the sounds from the Akara seller setting frying pan on an open fire pervades the otherwise quiet street, nothing could mask the sweet smell of Sunday morning.